To an Athlete Dying Young
BY ALFRED EDWARD HOUSEMAN
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
Source: The Norton Anthology of Poetry Third Edition (1983)
Edenbray Comments – If not for anything more than its consistent ability to make me cry – when read aloud by the adorable Karen von Blitzen (as played by Meryl Streep) – over the grave of her departed lover Dennis Finch-Hatton in the wondrously romantic movie adaption of her life story – the 1985 film – Out Of Africa, directed so sensitively and memorably by the late, great – Sydney Pollack.
But of course apart from all that – A.E. Housemans piece is one of my absolute favourites.